I took a trip to Vancouver and Vegas last week. On the ride back from Canada, I got into a spirited discussion with my seatmate about film schools and the film industry. I told her about my site and how I talk young people out of blowing their life savings on school and what to do instead.
There’s always a moment right after I share what I do with someone new that I brace myself for a backlash. Part of my still fears I will somehow hear “That’s terrible! Film Schools are wonderful and prepare young people for the rigors of working in the industry!” And then they will spit in my face and walk away.
But in 4 years of doing this, that’s never happened. In fact, my new friend laughed and said, “Right on. I never, ever hire graduates.”
I asked her what she does in the industry, and she said she is a Producer for a reality show. “Which one?” I asked. “Big Brother”. Huh. That’s a pretty huge show. But that’s networking. You get on a plane and say hi to someone and you’ve met someone new.
The gist of her gripe with film school graduates is that they don’t know what they are doing, are usually entitled or think they are better than other people who didn’t go to school. Whatever the reasons, the overall message was the same I’ve heard from industry pros for years: school is not only a waste of time, it can actually hurt you.
Film is not an Academic field. It’s as if you went to school and got a degree in waiting tables. A film set is a lot like a restaurant during the dinner rush. Shit is happening fast and it doesn’t matter who you are or where you went to school, but can you handle your shit and get the food delivered and keep the customers happy? A film school grad is like the guy holding up the kitchen while he recites the history of the ingredients of all the food on the menu but can’t handle making sure his 4 tables get their food on time.
Consider the typical entry level job on a production. You’re going to be working as a PA, or Production Assistant. In 1999 I was stopped on the streets of New York by a PA wearing a walkie talkie, because Woody Allen and Kenneth Branaugh were filming “Celebrity” on the street. It was a cool moment. The PA’s job was essentially to stop people from walking onto the set. That’s the kind of stuff you do on a film set if you are going to start below the line. And, as I teach myself students, you just aren’t going to jump the line into being a Director — because how the hell can you realistically expect to grow from the guy who gets coffee to the visionary of a movie? It never happens.
So imagine the insanity of paying someone $90,000 to get a degree to get coffee. Not only is it a waste of time, but if you were a Line Producer would you really want to hire someone that spent a few years and $90,000 studying for a job that is basically getting coffee and stopping traffic? No. That person is going to be a terrible worker. You’d just get someone young and hungry. Which is what Jack C. Smith, a 20 year veteran of the business, looks for when hiring new crew members.
What’s worse is that the film schools, even after luring new students by promising them a glamorous career in the business as a Director, lie to them and tell them that getting a production job is the way to somehow get into directing. It just doesn’t happen, and students find this out the hard way. This is an email I got from a graduate of LA Film School explaining just that:
Follow your dreams, but do it intelligently. Don’t pay a small fortune for a degree and don’t start working below the line if you want to direct. Our training is the only one of it’s kind to teach students to make a feature and market it directly to an audience. To learn more about our training click here.